It is five years ago this month that David Gill led the final doomed boardroom stand at Manchester United against the Glazer family's takeover. He was the chief executive who went overnight from running a business that was debt-free to one that now supports £504m of the total £716m debt that the American owners borrowed in order to buy the club.
Five years later, three Premier League titles and one Champions League trophy down the road, the Glazers are still reviled by the most vocal elements of the club's support, most notably the fans who wear the green and gold of Newton Heath in protest. Gill, once the hero of the supporters' groups for standing up to the Glazers, now finds himself a target for their anger.
In his most detailed interview yet, the man at the centre of United and the controversial Glazer regime spoke exclusively to The Independent about why he thinks United can still prosper.
Gill on the Glazer debt
I don't think it is damaging and I think it is sustainable. It is ironic that the protests gathered momentum after an event [the bond issue that refinanced the £504m senior debt] that put the financing structure of the club on a better footing. The bond issue is clearly a better instrument. It is more flexible, it does not have the covenants associated with the bank debt we had at the time. The repayment date is 2017 rather than the next few years. The price for that was greater visibility and the document.
Anyone who has worked in the City knows that when you are trying to raise money externally you have to be pretty clear about the risks [as United were in the document in January]. [Sir] Alex Ferguson retiring is clearly something that would be a major sea change at United and that is a risk. What that document did was bring all the risks together into a dozen pages and that is where we are at.
I firmly believe that the financing we have in place and with the growth we have seen in our commercial operations – even with the interest [payments] of £45m [annually] – we can sustain that and still be a top, top club.
On the money from Ronaldo and this summer's transfer funds
The money is there. People say Alex is saying that because he has to. Anyone who knows Alex Ferguson knows he wouldn't say that if he didn't mean what he said. The money is definitely there. The results for the quarter ending 31 March [released today] will show the figures are about £95m cash
We are not in a situation whereby Alex is restricted in what he wants to do with the club and his modus operandi as a manager. We have never said: "You can't do that, we have to pay interest [on the debt]." I can look you in the eye and say that. He would say exactly the same thing. People don't believe it. We never said to him: "You can't go for that player because he's too much."
On the fans' banner that claims he said 'Debt is the road to ruin'
Phil [Townsend, director of communications] tried to find the original quote and he couldn't. It was two sentences put together. What I would say was that it was a particular point in time. The model did change. It went [to the current] debt from no debt; I am not disputing that.
As the takeover unfolded, the Glazers revised their model in autumn 2004 to less bank debt in May 2005 when it happened. The fans also put up a sign saying "David Gill – protecting his salary not Manchester United". It's not the truth at all. I have been a fan of the club all my life, I have worked there since 1997. I enjoy it and I know a lot of people there. We get on well. I work closely with Alex.
On working for the Glazers
[When the club looked at the Glazers business plan] We looked at the EBIDTA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation] and then took off the interest [payable by the Glazers] and it [the debt] was easily serviceable. The other supporting thing is they [the Glazers] fully buy into the fact that what happens on the pitch is crucial to their aspirations off the pitch. So whether it is a player contract or a transfer or investing in new [corporate] boxes there was never any equivocation.
When Carlos Queiroz and I went to buy Anderson and Nani in 2007, I was [in Portugal] for the day, got on the phone to Joel [Glazer] and said we wanted to do it. We spent millions of euros in one day. They listen to you, you listen to them and you work together. The critical thing is there was no issue in terms of meeting payments and covenants.
On his son Oliver, a professional at United, being abused by anti-Glazer protesters
When he was on the bench at Fulham [and his name was booed] he said he didn't hear anything and he didn't care. He is a young lad of 19. He is an intelligent boy. He doesn't worry about it. He takes the view that if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer [the United reserve team coach] wants him to play he is OK and he will play.
He gets comments that he is not good enough – he may not be good enough – but Solskjaer is managing his career in the reserves and he picks him. I have never interfered in that aspect at all. Alex decides the contracts. It is no bad thing if he gets a bit of grief. If he makes it, that will be the least of his worries. He will get a lot more than that. Lanky git and all that sort of stuff!
On being heckled by green and gold protesters at Birmingham University
That was unfortunate. Universities in this country are having to do a lot in terms of raising money and I helped them out. These guys [protesters] had an agenda, there was no discussion, they were putting their point over. Fine. It was a one-off. It was a two-minute exchange.
On suggestions that the Glazers are taking money out of the club to finance the personal heavy-interest, payment-in-kind loans – currently £220m – that they used to buy the club
All I can do is say what they [the Glazers] said in the offer document in 2005. That money we have discussed, particularly from the [Cristiano] Ronaldo sale, is still there in the business and there is no recourse to it [from the Glazers]. When we present our budget to the board the budget is basically the results of Manchester United Ltd and the bond interest. Full stop.
I don't wake up at night [worrying about the PIK loan]. That is what they put in place to acquire it. That is their responsibility. That is the situation. The money is in the club and they have no recourse. I have no reason to believe otherwise.
On the £9m the Glazers have taken out in management fees
It is an easy point to pick up on. I was interested to see that Randy Lerner has taken money out of Aston Villa. That is not mentioned. He has taken some interest out. That's viewed as OK. I wouldn't get hung up about it personally. This is where it all becomes judgemental.
All I can say is we are investing in our team and contracts. That the owners have taken out that sum of money – I don't concern myself with it.
On Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist he once appointed to the board, who is now the head of the Red Knights
I know Jim, he is a passionate United fan. You know football attracts a lot of interest. It is regarded as "sexy" – more so than writing an economic report about the developing world [O'Neill's day job]. To have it [the Red Knights] so public is not the normal way things happen. In terms of broadcasting who is involved, what they are going to do and what they are going to pay is a somewhat strange way to go about it.
On the fans who say United should be run like Barcelona's membership system
It does make me laugh when people talk about going to a membership model and say, "Look at Barcelona". I have great respect for the big Spanish clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, but why are they so successful? Yes, they have a membership model and they change the president every four years. But that is not why they are successful; it is because they sell their television rights individually. They get well over €100m [£103.4m annually].
You look at the final league table and there are 25 points between Real Madrid in second and Valencia [who earn £38.7m] in third. They [Barcelona and Madrid] have got more money so, of course, they can attract the better players. We [United] have never done that and we don't get the credit for it. The owners [Glazers] come from a very collective selling market in the United States. Even more collective than it is over here. They have always been supportive of the Premier League collective.
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